Education

What does the future of education look like? | Opinion


A cartoon of a man leaping towards an open exit

As we wind down to a long-overdue summer break and dream of eating 99s on drizzly proms, I wonder what the future of the UK and Irish education systems looks like.

It’s not as if it’s been quiet on the teaching front lately. A quick overview of the landscape reminds us of peaks and troughs: curriculum reform in Wales; the much delayed publication of the OECD’s review of Education Scotland and the consequent scrapping of SQA; the furore around assessments last year and again this year, including both WJEC and OCR portals going down as schools were trying to upload this year’s teacher-assessed grades; the recent Education Committee report on how education is failing White working class students; and the continuing scandal of sexism in schools. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of a pandemic, with its concomitant hokey-cokey as schools closed and reopened, social distancing and mask-or-not rules.

One teacher told me this is the worst summer term she has experienced in 15 years of teaching

None of this is conducive to a healthy teaching environment for students or teachers and could have repercussions for the retention crisis.

Glass half full?

Teachers are recognised as one of the hardest working professions, with workload and pay often cited as the other reasons for the retention crisis.

In the past week, one teacher told me this is the worst summer term she has experienced in 15 years of teaching, while at the recent ASE summer conference a newly qualified teacher shared her fears of having so little experience with practical work in the classroom. These are just two examples. They won’t be the only teachers feeling like this.

A pessimist might suggest these figures have nothing to do with teachers deciding to continue

Yet, maybe the Department for Education’s annual school workforce data offers a glimmer of hope. It reports that overall teacher headcount is up 7000 on the year before and the number of teachers leaving the profession has dropped by 17%. And a survey by the National Foundation for Education Research last year suggested the proportion of teachers considering leaving teaching was down by 15%.

Yet, maybe the Department for Education’s annual school workforce data (bit.ly/3gP6f8B) offers a glimmer of hope. It reports that overall teacher headcount is up 7000 on the previous year and the number of teachers leaving the profession has dropped by 17%. And a survey by the National Foundation for Education Research last year (bit.ly/3xEsyDo) suggested the proportion of teachers considering leaving teaching was down by 15%.

A pessimist might suggest these figures have nothing to do with teachers deciding to continue in the profession. Instead, they are simply choosing to stay put because a pandemic isn’t a conducive environment for seeking a new career. If that’s the case, another summer of assessment chaos, student anxiety and teacher scapegoating won’t help.

Teachers might not be hanging up their lab coats this coming academic year, but they might well be eyeing up an exit strategy.



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